Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground

Yesterday we visited the historic burying ground in Beaufort. There are no Howards here – not that I could tell with all the weather worn stones. There are many other stories of a different way of life, enough that this will be one the longest posts I’ve written. Some of the stories are told in a trifold brochure available at the historic sites visitors center. Two of my favorites are:

Sarah Gibbs & Jacob Shepard: Sarah married Jacob Shepard and waited for him to return from sea. When years passed, she married Mr. Gibbs. At some time after the Gibbs had a child, Jacob Shepard surprised everyone by turning up alive. An agreement was reached that Sarah would stay with Gibbs, but spend eternity by the side of her first husband, Jacob Shepard.

The Girl in a Rum Barrel: The girl and her family settled in Beaufort in the early 1700s, and the girl dreamed of visiting her homeland and British relatives. Finally, her father agreed to take her on a visit, promising to return her safely to her mother. On the trip home, the girl became ill and 034died. Custom would have had the girl buried at sea, but the father did not want to totally break the promise made to his wife. He purchased a barrel of rum from the captain, and placed his daughter’s body in the rum to preserve it until they reached home. The barrel was buried intact with the girl inside. This story has caught many people’s sympathies, and the girl’s grave is decorated with toys, necklaces and other bits and pieces of finery.030

Many groups of headstones told of the the loss of many children in a family. The stones on this group were hard to read, but they told of the deaths of three children ranging from infancy to about six years old. Two died within a month of each other, the infant died within the following year. One group of three headstones contained four children, with an unnamed baby buried along with another child. These family plots reminded us that these 18th and 19th century residents faced constant loss and uncertainty. 026

This cemetery had a peculiar difference from New England and midwestern cemeteries. There is very little natural stone in the area so wood and brick were commonly used in the cemeteries. Many of the graves had bricks or other material paving the entire tops of the graves. There’s a very high water table in this area, and the stones keep the graves intact during heavy rains and periods of flooding from hurricanes.

When we walked the Neusiok Trail and the land along the Neuse River earlier in the week, we saw swamps and small ponds that indicate an even higher water table there. I’ve read that these early Quakers didn’t mark their graves with headstones, but they certainly took precautions to prevent the dead from floating out of their graves. If I learn anything about this, I’ll write another post about it.


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